**Editor’s Note, 2016 Elections **
A Stanford education, as the University motto says, is about freedom. Freedom lets students and faculty at one of the world’s greatest schools say what they think, challenge each other with impunity, and “respect the right of others to express their ideas”, as Penn’s Provost reminded students after they shut down an event featuring the director of the CIA last week.
These ASSU elections have become a clear choice between those who want to give Stanford freedom, and those who seek to compromise on it. Whether the opponents of liberty are running for office – or waiting for tacit acceptance from the electorate, and quiet support from student Senators – the next two days are a referendum on how we want our University to look.
Of course, the right to free speech is insulted by those Senators who used it to legitimize the claim that Jewish people control the government. But the correct response is not to try to censor these people. Rather, we should ask them to explain themselves, call on them to drop out, and vote against them.
The same freedom applies in the classroom. Students should be able to voice their opinions, and others can explain why they disagree. Yet the proposal to ban microaggressions launched by Who’s Teaching Us – a group whose future rests on whether next year’s Senators support it – does precisely the opposite. It declares that students have the right to arbitrarily punish and censor faculty members if they hear something they do not personally like.
Classes on important issues of justice and history will no longer have professors brave enough to tackle them head-on, or to push students to reconsider their beliefs. If students never have to question their views, especially on sensitive issues, a Stanford degree will have been devalued. You will have been cheated out of a real education.
More important than freedom itself is knowing how to use it. Seven ASSU Senators yesterday declared that “delegitimization” of Israel – a clear standard used by the US State Department – should not count as anti-semitic on campus. Time and time again, Senators argued against “recognizing the Jewish people’s right to self-determination in their ancestral homeland.” If they knew more about the history of the persecution of the Jews, and their denial of a place they could call home, perhaps they would have reconsidered.
Likewise, Stanford students will preside over an age where millions lose their jobs to machines, and Silicon Valley will be the culprit. Yet without any knowledge of the last Industrial Revolution, they will be flying blind through an era of social and economic upheaval.
We proposed a Western Civilization requirement because we believe every student needs to know where their country’s freedoms and history came from. Stanford should know why America looks the way it does and how people responded to the same crises we face today. Even if you want to critique the West, you need to understand its origins and philosophy first.
Finally, regardless of which proposals you support, every politician on campus has a duty to respect the freedom of Stanford students to choose for themselves. On one side, we and others have advocated for clear policies, articulated reasons for supporting them, and gave the Stanford population the chance to democratically express their opinions. On the other, groups have threatened Stanford with a vague list of demands, afforded students no chance to vote on them, and promised civil disobedience if they do not get their way. Our opponents have responded to us not with arguments, but sinister emails to everyone who dared sign our petition and a politicized attempt to pull us off the ballot.
In the next forty-eight hours, Stanford makes a choice. We can support the same groups who have rejected the wishes of students, divide campus, refuse to call out demonizing speech and tacitly back an antidemocratic cabal of activists. Or we can back independent Senators, stand for a basic humanities requirement, and make clear that we will not tolerate political bullying in place of argument.
Now is a time for choosing, and the choice is clear.